Microsoft Copilot AI Frenzy Hits XChange March 2024

‘This is a huge opportunity. So if we can get just a small piece of the pie, that would be big,’ says one partner who attended the packed session.

The frenzy to cash in on the Microsoft generative AI opportunity came to XChange March 2024 Monday with a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 MSPs looking for help on how to grow their business with Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365.

The arrival of the GenAI-powered tool is producing huge opportunities for MSPs, Microsoft’s Jason Jones said during the packed session at the XChange conference, which is hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company and being held this week in Orlando, Fla.

[Related: Microsoft 365 Copilot Goes GA, Bringing GenAI To Enterprise Customers]

Jones spoke during an OpenText Cybersecurity session that aimed to educate solution providers on how to become AI-ready.

The abundant opportunities include everything from helping to deliver a massive boost to worker productivity at customers while also ensuring that the tools can be used securely and without exposing sensitive data, said Jones, director of global partner solutions at Microsoft.

“From a Microsoft perspective, we are seeing rapid adoption. And in some cases, frankly, we're seeing it maybe a little too fast,” he said. “It’s typically, I would say, end users going rogue.”

The tech giant’s message to partners on Microsoft Copilot is this: “Help your customers understand the benefits, the ROI — but also the, ‘are you prepared?’” Jones said. “We absolutely need you to help us have those conversations.”

Brian Ruschman, president of C-Forward Inc., a Covington, Ky.-based MSP, said the intense interest from IT service providers in Microsoft Copilot is because “it's the next generation of what we're all going to be doing.”

“The room was packed. It was overflowing. They brought in extra chairs. And there’s a reason why: We know what we know, but we also know there's a lot more,” Ruschman said. “We don't know how it's going to end up or what it's going to end up doing. But we also want to absorb it as quickly as we can.”

Productivity Boost

In terms of the promise of the technology, Jones said the potential is for Microsoft Copilot to save employees 10 hours of work per month.

“It can pay for itself, essentially, in a month,” he said. “But we have to have great MSP partners along [for] the journey.”

Lynda Mahabir, lead Microsoft partner success manager at OpenText Cybersecurity, said helping customers with data security around Microsoft Copilot is paramount for MSPs.

For this and many other reasons, “you need to make sure that [Microsoft Copilot] is set up properly,” Mahabir said during the session.

Steve Lu, president of Print Choices, a nationwide MSP headquartered in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., said the solution provider mania around AI at XChange March 2024 is all about following the money.

“This is a huge opportunity, so if we can get just a small piece of the pie, that would be big,” he said. “From a business perspective that is what we see. That is why you see all the excitement around, ‘I need to figure this out today.’”

Major Uncertainty

With the excitement, there is also uncertainty and the fear of being left out in the AI solutions land grab, said Lu. “Ninety percent of this is uncertainty,” he said. “ChatGPT was released not that long ago and now everyone has to talk about AI. If you don’t you are looked at as if you are behind a curveball.”

The first step in capturing the AI opportunity is “calming” yourself down and figuring out how AI applies to your and your customer’s business, said Lu.

“Even though there is tremendous opportunity it is not one size fits all,” he said. “You have to look at this and say ‘Is this a cup of tea for me and my business?’”

For Print Choices, “we will be looking into this. We owe ourselves an opportunity to look at whether there is business potential for us or not,” Lu said. “Then we have to evaluate whether we want to do it or not. It is a tough business decision. You have to go through this because this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Lu credited Microsoft for leading the AI charge with Microsoft Copilot. “Microsoft really pushed this to the front, to our face,” he said. “They are considered the leader of AI from a software perspective.”

'Scratching The Surface’

At this point, Print Choices is in learning mode, trying to gather as much information as possible on the AI opportunity. “Al is hitting everybody,” he said. “It is big but we are really just scratching the surface of what AI can do for everybody.”

Lu expects to ultimately find a profitable path to AI solutions with Microsoft, but he also sees AI hurting a lot of solution provider businesses. “There’s always a double edged sword, some companies will be hurting and some will be profiting,” he said.

Stephen Neuss, director of sales at Buffalo-based PCA Technology Group, said his company is also at the “beginning stages” to see how it can put itself in a position to help its customers use AI to improve productivity.

“You need business analysts that can come in, understand the customer’s business and then help them with the automations and workflows that are impactful for the different user roles,” he said. “That is a new breed for a lot of partners. You need the right people in the right seats that can go into the customer environments, speak their languages and help them in that way. We’re excited about the potential. It is all about how we can get our company into that position.”

Neuss said the packed Microsoft Copilot session at XChange was just one more sign that solution providers of all stripes are trying to figure out how to capture the AI solution opportunity.

“People haven’t figured it out and they are in here wrestling with it,” he said. “Everybody can ride in a car or drive it. Very few people can build it. Those who, over the next year or two, can figure out how to build a business around this that meets the customer’s needs, are the ones that are going to thrive and take off with it.”